I love Advent. Lights on dark nights, candles, purple stoles, Advent Markets, the smell of cinnamon, YHWH’s promise of something new based on what he’s done long ago. We need the hope that comes from YHWH’s promise of something new based on what he’s done long ago. And those we meet who do not know the Way need it all the more in these days when the hope in progress is dying, or dead already, like tree-leaves in autumn and early winter. They need to hear from us that YHWH is on the world’s case and has a re-creation planned - well, already started in fact. And they need to see YHWH modelling the re-creation amongst us, Jesus’s family, created and enlivened and fitted for service by his Spirit - the future in the present.
I love Advent, too, because we usually get a lot of Isaiah. We’ve had a little tonight, only a little, but what a gem of a section. It follows immediately on from the end of chapter one of the book, in which we read of YHWH’s judgement against Israel because they have not behaved like his people.
‘How the faithful city has become a harlot,
she who was full of justice!
Righteousness once lodged in her,
But now murderers.
Your silver has become dross,
Your drink diluted with water.
Your rulers are rebels,
And companions of thieves;
Every one loves a bribe,
And chases after rewards.
They do not defend the orphan,
Nor does the widow’s plea come before them.
They have not turned out to be the kind of a people through whom YHWH can fulfill his promise to Abraham that his descendents will be a blessing to all the peoples of the earth.
But then we suddenly get this short poem from the beginning of Chapter two. The text is disjunctive - there’s no smooth joined up transition from judgement to blessing, there’s no join, just a sudden jolt. Perhaps the text is like this because this is how YHWH is. He can seem threatening, absent even, then suddenly without announcement he is here, on the doorstep, laden with promise. YHWH leads Isaiah to see the ‘last days’ when he will put stuff right. He has a vision of Temple Mount in Jerusalem, lifted high over other hills, all lit up with light beaming from it, and miriads of people streaming towards it. Listen:
the mountain of the house of YHWH will be established as the chief of the nations - YHWH will be seen as supreme over the nations with their idols, and by implication Israel will become top nation.
the nations will stream to the temple to hear YHWH’s teaching and to learn to walk the ways of YHWH.
YHWH will be back in the temple - the temple to which he never returned when it was rebuilt after Israel returned from captivity in Babylon. [Malachi 3.2 - “and YHWH will suddenly come to his temple”] The holy of holies remained empty - as Emperor Caligula discovered when he entered it after the sack of Jerusalem in AD70.
So Torah will go forth from Zion, YHWH’s word from Jerusalem - his instructions on how human life should be lived
YHWH will arbitrate between nations
And there will be peace - weapons hammered into agricultural implements, no more training for war ever again. Tanks into harvesters, the end of the military industrial machine. Ain’t gonna learn war no more.
Jesus was born some centuries after Isaiah wrote this, when there was intense interest about when YHWH would bring it all about, including getting rid of the Romans and becoming top nation. People speculated about what part Israel had to play in this final,as yet unwritten, chapter of the story of YHWH and his people and the world. Different groups had different ideas bout this: Pharisees - keep the Torah better [trading on Deuteronomy 30]; Qumran - become a holy community; Zealots - holy war; Sadducees - ignore this prophecy stuff and keep as much power and status as possible by getting along with the Romans [the Christendom position]. But the early followers of Jesus had a radically different interpretation. Like many, they expected that YHWH would bring about his promises through a new King from the line of David, the Messiah. Unlike the many, they discovered that the Messiah was Jesus and they came to see that Isaiah’s vision, and more, the whole story and purpose of Israel, was fulfilled in Him. The last chapter had started, it had suddenly, and unexpectedly come true in Jesus of Nazareth. YHWH had done his New Thing, foreshadowed in all that He had done before.
Before long those early followers of the Way were claiming that Jesus is now the place where God’s glory dwelt on earth, a glory which he passed on to his people when he gave them the Spirit. Hence Paul can talk of his people who are in the Messiah as God’s temple. A temple that has been turned inside out as it were. The shekinah glory has returned but is no longer hidden away in the holy of holies. The Temple has been turned inside out. Isiaih’s vision of YHWH’s light streaming from the Temple is realised, fulfilled, by the Spirit indwelling little groups of disciples, indeed by the Spirit dwelling in each of them.
People from all nations came to hear him teach the ways of YHWH [think of the sermon on the mount], and as the church spread thoughout the near east all nations continued to come to him.
Pilate, representing the nations of this world, stood judged before him, though he said very little
Jesus modelled peace even when he was resisting the authorities, and his followers continued to live in peace at least until about the time of Constantine.
Those early followers knew that they were taking part in YHWH’s project to renew his creation. They were descendants of Abraham to whom the promise had been given. They knew the part that they had to play in the great drama. We are fellow actors with them in YHWH’s great project of restoration. What are we to do - a sort of active passivity. Working hard at letting YHWH work through us. Tonight’s three readings suggest some principles:
‘Come house of Jacob, and let us walk in the light of YHWH’ says Isaiah. ‘Let your light so shine before men that they see your good works and glorify your Father who is in heaven’, says Jesus. Live the Torah, the instruction of YHWH, so that others may also walk in his ways.
Or as the apostle Paul puts it, having realised that the Messiah is now the Torah, ‘but put on The Lord Jesus Messiah’. I don’t know if by the time that Paul wrote that the custom had sprung up of candidates for baptism being dressed up in a white gown. But it’s a lovely metaphor for coming into the family of the Messiah. I guess that ‘putting on the Lord Jesus Messiah’ is about the whole process by which we grow into his likeness - as individuals and as a church. A process furthered by what we now call the spiritual disciplines, eg prayer, bible study, worship, fasting, love of enemies, the practice of peace, and so on - ways in which we keep the channels open for the Spirit to flow in and out of us.
Jesus tells us that our attitude should be an alert watchfulness for his coming: “Keep awake, then; for you do not know on what day your Lord is to come. Remember, if the householder had known at what time of night the burglar was coming, he would have kept awake and not let his house be broken into. Hold yourselves ready, therefore, because the Son of Man will come at the time you least expect him” We don’t know the time when we will see God’s new beginning complete, the renewal of creation and the Lord’s house, the Temple, filling the whole earth. But the time has started, the Spirit has been given, the Shekinah glory has been let loose in the world. He comes to the baptised [or is it better to say he flares up inside the baptised] at times that suit his purpose of showing YHWH’s glory through us. Perhaps Jesus is reminding us to be alertly watchful for these times too. Perhaps to earnestly ask for such times, such opportunities to be a channel through whom YHWH brings the hope, the healing, the forgiveness, the freedom, the beauty, the purpose and the glory of the Kingdom to others.
Do we want many peoples to come to the Messiah that he may teach them his ways? Do you want to see the blossoming of peace which springs up through communities that have Him at their centre? Do we look for the spread of God’s glory throughout the earth. Do we want these things for ourselves and for our neighbours? If yes then tonight’s readings call us to live as if the Kingdom has come - because it has, though not yet in all it’s fulness. They remind us, because we need to keep remembering, that YHWH always has new stuff for us to be and to do and to receive from him. He invites us to live expectantly, never knowing what he will do next, but being sure that he has only the best for us and holy work to do. Finally:
Isaiah says to us: come, house of Jacob, and let us walk in the light of YHWH
Paul says to us:put on the Lord Jesus Messiah, and
Our Lord Jesus the Messiah himself tells us to hold ourselves ready, because the Son of Man will come when we least expect him.